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10 Things You Didn’t Know about Me
1. Bizarre though it seems, my great grandfather was the chappie who founded Brooke Bond PG Tips, though the family don’t own it any more so the company has dropped the BB part of the name. And yes, (UK joke alert for those of A Certain Age …), it is embarrassing that the only thing everyone remembers about it is the long-running poshly-dressed chimpanzees tea-party commercial. Ah the shame … I always buy Sainsbury’s Red Label tea, myself.
2. At one of my previous churches, I used to be the Sacristan – which is the person who looks after the wafers and the wine, the vestments, the altar cloths, the candles, the posh platters and chalices, and anything else no-one knows what to do with. All these glorious items are usually kept in a church Sacristy (hence the job name). It involved a heck of a lot of getting up excruciatingly early, wearing fingerless gloves (of necessity in winter) and cleaning as a near-Olympic sport. At their best, you’ll never see a Sacristan as everything should (ha!) be ready before a service and they’ll only clear up after you’ve gone. But if you see anyone scampering around frantically at the back or processing to the vestry with a frown during a service, it’s probably the Sacristan and something terribly serious (such as an unfortunate lack of wafers or the priest fainting – and yes, both of these have happened in my time …) has just taken place. The Church of England trick during any Service Disaster (SD, for short) is to smile calmly and sing a hymn, while the backroom boys and gals deal with the crisis. Hey ho. I gave it up in the end as I was dreaming in incense and wax. Never a healthy sign.
3. I once drove ten miles along a variety of busy A roads with a vast amount of raspberry netting attached to my rear bumper. I’d picked it up as I reversed out of my stepfather’s drive and never once looked in my rear view mirror. Well (coughs), the view ahead was surely more important … I did wonder why I was getting hooted and flashed by so many lorry drivers on the opposite side of the road. In my late teenage naivety and unaccountable confidence, I just assumed it was because I was looking particularly stunning that morning (I wasn’t …) and kept waving happily back. I finally realised what had happened when I arrived at my destination, after almost having netted a cyclist in the final fifty yards. I never really knew how he escaped, hey ho. My stepfather wasn’t too impressed either as he did love his raspberries.
4. I inherited a ceremonial sword used by my great-grandfather (a different one from the tea man!) during his time as a British officer in the Indian army. I have looked for suspicious rust stains but, as it’s not for battle use, I don’t think he ever actually killed anyone with it. However, it’s a great talking point at dinner parties, and a source of endless fascination for my ex-major friend.
5. I was once running for a crowded London bus when my wrap-round skirt fell off. Thank goodness I was wearing knickers. Really. Thankfully, the bus-driver was laughing so hard he was forced to stop, thus giving me time to pick up the skirt again and hold it round myself whilst I staggered onto the bus. After he’d recovered from the trauma, the driver gave me a safety pin so I could maintain my modesty on the daily commute, which just goes to show that London bus drivers are worth their weight in gold after all. And I wasn’t late for work.
6. Yes, my hair really is this colour. No, honestly. My answer to the regular question: Where did you get that hair colour? is: From the gene-code bottle. With age, it’s to all intents and purposes brown now and will no doubt soon be salt-and-pepper (the standard ageing progression for female redheads), but I come from a long line of redheads – on both sides – and all our generation, including myself, were born with ginger hair. Or, as I like to describe it, hair the colour of golden cornfields swept by summer breezes. Dream on, eh. So, yes, I do actually need to wear Factor 50 suncream at all times if I’m outside for more than five minutes, so please don’t make a big thing of it, and I absolutely do need that hat! Which, of course, explains why there are so many red-headed people in my fiction. I’m used to them, you see.
7. I used to meditate for about an hour or so every day, and attend a regular Julian Group meeting (a group of like-minded Christians who spend half an hour in silence together) and still not feel it was enough. In recent years, this practice has severely fallen away (my loss, entirely) but I still value the quality of silence and have a very soft spot for the Quaker tradition. The more quiet in a church service there is, the more I like it. An odd thing to say for a writer, I know. But I think silence is hugely creative, in every sense, and I’d love to get back to it properly one day.
8. At school, our class had to do a year’s detention – every Wednesday evening for one hour – for the crime of talking to boys over the school fence. We were an all girls’ school. We had to write out over and over again: I must not talk to boys over the school fence. It’s given me a horror of fences ever since, but not however of boys. We also weren’t allowed to go into town and eat ice cream in our school uniforms – but we were never caught out at that. I do wonder now if it would have been more acceptable to be naked and eat the ice cream so we couldn’t be traced back to the school, but I never had the courage to ask. A missed opportunity, eh.
9. The very first time I approached an agent directly with my first ever novel, at a writers’ conference, I was told I was “unpublishable, unmarketable and unreadable”. Really, after the tears, I felt quite proud – and my husband was delighted, saying that with those qualities surely I would be shortlisted for the Booker Prize any day now. What a hero. Interestingly, after I’d got over the trauma, and sharpened up the book a fair amount, it did eventually get published, and some people have even enjoyed it, though it’s very English in tone! Which just goes to show that writers simply have to keep going, even in the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles. For the curious, the book in question is gay social comedy, The Hit List.
10. I have a plan for world domination, but alas I can’t share it for fear that my enemies might get wind of the idea. Suffice it to say that it involves a great deal of chocolate, the legalisation of suncream, and compulsory cupcake farms. The future is indeed bright – but we might need bigger chairs and non-slip clothes. Prepare for the revolution, as they say …
Blurb for The Heart’s Greater Silence:
Mark isn’t sure he believes in love, especially when he finds himself torn between two very different men: his reliable boyfriend, Craig, and his illicit lover and priest, Richard.
Mark knows what he should do, but he can’t bring himself to give Richard up. The sex with Richard is unlike anything he’s ever known with Craig, and he hungers for it as much as—if not more than—the truer intimacy he finds in his boyfriend’s arms.
When Craig discovers his betrayal, Mark is forced to look at his life more closely, but the path to self-knowledge is never an easy one. Richard seeks the way back to God, but Mark finds no solace there. Can he ever discover the truth of his own soul, or is he too afraid of what he will—or won’t—find inside his heart?